(director: Alan J. Pakula; screenwriter: Alvin Sargent; cinematographer: Geoffrey Unsworth; editor: Russell Llyod; music: Michael Small; cast: Maggie Smith (Lila Fisher), May Heatherley (Melanie Elbertson), Margaret Modlin(Mrs. Elbertson), Charles Baxter (Dr. Elbertson), Timothy Bottoms (Walter Elbertson), Don Jaime de Mora y (The Duke), Emiliano Redondo(The Spanish Gentleman), Lloyd Brimhall (Carl); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Alan J. Pakula; Columbia Pictures; 1973)
“Cheerfully dreary.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alan J. Pakula (“Klute”/”All the President’s Men”/”Sophie’s Choice”) directs this charming but modest summer romance melodrama/comedy about an awkward, asthmatic American 18-year-old, Walter Elbertson (Timothy Bottoms), and an awkward British thirtysomething spinster, Lila Fisher (Maggie Smith), suffering from an incurable disease. They meet in Spain while both are on vacation and find comfort in each other’s company. The scenic location shots makes this pic double as a travelogue. Writer Alvin Sargent keeps things cheerfully dreary and hopelessly neurotic. If Maggie Smith wasn’t in this slight pic, it might be all pain and no love. Her inspired performance is worth the price of admission, while co-star Timothy Bottoms shows his limits when trying to act clumsy while being so stiff-thereby drawing no laughs, while a clumsy Maggie draws plenty of laughs.

Walter is the shy, aimless son of a Pulitzer-prizewinning history professor (Charles Baxter), who is on a bicycle tour of Spain with other collegians but can’t keep up with them. When he bolts that tour for a bus tour, he meets the shy spinster Lila. The losers manage to make contact despite finding it difficult to start up a conversation. Soon they find they might love each other and bolt the tour to ride around in the remote parts of Spain in their caravan. With summer over, Lila returns to her Bournemouth flat where she lives with her aunts while Walter returns to his parents’ home with some decent memories.

It was shot in 1971, but wasn’t released until two years later. The film will eventually fall apart when it goes the tearjerker Love Story route and loses most of its credibility in regards to the mismatched relationship.

REVIEWED ON 10/28/2010 GRADE: B-